DAYS WITH TODDLERS.
When my first born started taking her first steps towards toddlerhood, I felt completely unprepared and overwhelmed. I could not sit at cafes anymore and chat over coffee with someone. I could not put her in one place and come back and find her there. I could not leave any switch, cord, zip, box or bag unattended and I certainly couldn't enjoy the relative peace and quite of a 0-7 month old.
Then a dear friend introduced me to a principle that has literally changed my days! I (more often than not) love being at home with my gorgeous (now) 20 month old and this principle has helped prepare us as a household for the beautiful introduction of our second child into the mix.
It ensures that the child has one on one time with mum, time to learn and focus by themselves, and time to play near or 'help mum' with things. Without doubt this has been some of the best advice when spending days at home with little ones as if they are left to their own devices entirely they can end up getting into everything or demanding your attention constantly, and missing out on special learning opportunities.
What it looks like.
TIME WITH MUM
If my toddler has some focussed time with mum (or dad) in some form like doing puzzles, reading books, going on the swing or doing an activity like rhyme time together at the library then she is much happier to get on with her own toys by herself at another point in the day. This frees me up to do something I need to around the house or sit and have some time to myself. Usually I save this part of the day for when she is bit tired and can't cope on her own before naps, dinner or bed time for example. Late afternoon is a prime time for this as she's had time by herself, an outing and she's getting a bit worn out in the lead up to dinner. This is when we do activities together. However some days that I feel she needs a bit more one on one attention, like if we've been out a lot or have had a lot of visitors or commitments then I will spend the whole morning doing one on one time. We might walk to the park together and collect bark and leaves, or sit at a cafe and 'chat' or go to rhyme time together. This has been a wonderful way for me to remember to soak her up while she is little, and for her to have undivided attention and she is usually back to her toys as soon as we get home. This is also when it is a good time to teach new activities or skills like painting, puzzles, or learning colours and numbers as they have your focussed attention and for the most part you have theirs.
TIME NEAR MUM
This is great for when you are doing activities like hanging the washing out, cooking dinner, baking, cleaning or gardening. These are not child focussed activities but they can certainly be close by or helping you depending on their age and they still feel like they have spent time with you. Sometimes we have play dough or drawing in the high chair happening while I am baking in the kitchen, or we are both gardening together (and by both I mean I am gardening and showing her what I am doing and letting her 'help' me). It's very sweet when they get to the age that they want to help sweep or put clothes into the washing machine and its nice helping them learn to chip in too! Time near mum also includes things like running errands, doing the shopping or having visitors over, they are still close to mum but it's not focussed one on one time.
TIME AWAY FROM MUM
Finally, time away from mum is where the focussed self play takes place. We use a play pen for this as our sweet little social butterfly would never proactively place herself away from others! This has become an integral part of our day and she has learnt to love going into her play pen (we have a really big wooden one in front of nice tall windows) and going through her toys, reading her books and doing puzzles. Occasionally we swap some toys in or out so she's not getting bored and throwing them out. While she is in there we have a playlist of calm music that we put on and she loves it so much she'll wave bye bye to you as you close the gate and walk away! It took some training to get to this point and consistency like with most things was the key for us. I consistently put her in the play pen straight after breakfast and we started the little routine of turning the music on together and finding something for her to look at and start playing with before I would leave. Then we would close the gate together and I would reassure her that I'm just in the kitchen or wherever and over time it became an easier (and quieter) process. This has really helped our days as it means I can get ready for our outings, or clean up after breakfast and maybe put dinner in the slow cooker, or sit and read for a little while. Sometimes this is where I catch her practicing little things I taught her recently in our one on one time, like doing a puzzle or putting blocks together or 'feeding' her teddies. It's very special. When it came to her learning that dad wasn't a get out of jail free card we had to revisit the initial consistency of going in, turning the music on and selecting a toy to start with but just dad would do it. Now she is happy enough to let mum and dad wander around the house while she is playing there by herself, which is great for us!
I don't want my little ones to feel like they are constantly vying for my attention from tasks, but I also want them to be able to happily play by themselves too. This approach has helped me find a really nice balance and means I end up enjoying my day much more too! I am so thankful for this advice.